The number of new confirmed cases of Covid-19 is increasing in Whatcom County and health officials have investigated 20 outbreaks since the beginning of June, said health department director Erika Lautenbach during a July 1 press briefing. New infections are also increasing in Washington state and 38 other states and districts in the country, according to data compiled by the New York Times.
In the seven days between June 28 and June 22, Whatcom County had 97 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, a roughly 50 percent increase from the previous seven-day period, when 65 people tested positive, according to the Washington State Department of Health. The department of health’s website cautions that the most recent numbers may be incomplete.
In the most recent week for which data is available, 2,213 people were tested in the county, an increase from the previous week, when 1,952 were tested, according to the state data. But the percentage of positive tests also increased, going from 3.3 percent to 5.3 percent, an indication that the increase in new cases is not solely due to increased testing.
Despite the increase in cases, almost no one is seeking hospital treatment for the new coronavirus. PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center spokesperson Bev Mayhew said on July 1 that the hospital had two patients with the virus.
People getting infected now are generally younger than in March and April, when Covid-19 was spreading in nursing facilities in Whatcom County. In the first weeks of June, two-thirds of new confirmed cases were among people under 29, Lautenbach said.
The rate of new cases and the amount of testing makes Whatcom County ineligible to apply for phase 3 of Washington state’s Safe Start plan. As of Tuesday night, Whatcom County had 622 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 40 people had died.
The majority of new Covid-19 cases are in northern Whatcom County, but not Blaine, according to June 30 data from the Whatcom County Health Department.
Since June 22, 40 new cases were people who live within the Lynden school district and 20 live within the Meridian school district. Those two districts had the biggest percentage increases in cases in the county, a 54.1 percent increase in Lynden and a 62.5 percent increase in Meridian.
The Blaine district had the smallest increase in the county during that period, with just three new cases for an increase of 8.3 percent.
The county has struggled with case and contact investigations, health department director Erika Lautenbach told county council at a June 23 meeting. She said in a July 1 press briefing that the department was contacting 288 people a day and had 39 new case investigations to complete. Those investigations can take up to an hour each, she said. The department is getting help from the state department of health and is screening more volunteers to do that work, she said.
“Our work is cut out for us in case and contact investigations,” Lautenbach said.
During the briefing, Lautenbach sought to quell rumors that Whatcom County was not doing enough testing. She said 2,558 people per week could be tested in Whatcom County. That’s “by any standard robust testing capacity,” she said.
It doesn’t, however, meet guidelines for the state’s Safe Start plan, which calls for counties to test 50 times the number of cases. According to the state, the county is only testing 18.8 individuals per each new case and the rate per 100K population doubled in the last 10 days to 64.8 which far exceeds the goal of under 25. Those figures would not have allowed the county to progress to phase 2 had they existed when the county applied for phase 2 status.
Lautenbach herself said that the county had fallen behind in testing during the June 23 county council meeting. On July 1, she said that many of the testing issues were new at that time and had now been resolved.
Many in Whatcom County have sought testing at Skagit County’s drive-thru testing site, Lautenbach said. That site does not require a referral from a physician or the health department, and it does not require an appointment. Though there are 11 sites that test for Covid-19 in Whatcom County, they all require appointments, physician referrals, or both.
The Whatcom County Health Department doesn’t have the staff or resources to operate a drive-through testing site, Lautemnbach had told council meeting.
“We really need our clinic partners, our other providers to be stepping up, and we are working with them to increase capacity, especially for low barrier testing,” Lautenbach said. Lautenbach and county council referred to testing that does not require health insurance or a
physician’s referral as low-barrier testing.
Elsewhere in the U.S., hospitals and universities have stepped up to provide no-appointment, no-referral Covid-19 testing. PeaceHealth spokesperson Bev Mayhew said the hospital didn’t yet have a plan to provide walk-in or drive-through testing for those without a physician’s referral.